Stanley Menzo, the coach at the helm of Ajax Cape Town, has a keen grasp of the needs of top level football. As a former goalkeeper at Ajax Amsterdam and the Netherlands, the 54-year-old is also able to quickly recognise the quality that makes a player tick.
As such, he is constantly reminding his Ajax squad to make full use of their strengths; invariably, the reason why an individual is playing in the PSL is because of that particular quality he has as a footballer. It’s taken a while for Menzo’s mantra to sink in - but, based on the team’s recent improvement, perhaps it’s starting to permeate to the players.
After a fantastic time in Johannesburg last week - a 0-0 draw with champions Wits and a 1-0 win over Chippa United - Ajax now tackle Kaizer Chiefs at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban tonight (kick-off 8.15pm). The big positive for Menzo is that so many players are returning to form at the right time.
Bantu Mzwakali is one such player who has come good after recognising the quality that makes him a little different. The 24-year-old from Gugulethu came through the Ajax youth academy and has always been tipped for PSL stardom. While he has shone in patches, he has just never been able to perform at his best consistently. In recent weeks, though, Mzwakali has shown that he is back to his best. Now the challenge is to do so more regularly.
Mzwakali has, in the past, always been used as a number 10 attacker, where he can flaunt his ball-holding ability to carve open opposition defences. But Menzo has dispensed with that approach and used the player on the left wing in recent games - and it has worked well.
“Speed is very important in top-level football,” Menzo explained. “Bantu’s speed is his best quality and he has to make sure that he uses it. He makes good runs. With Bantu in good form, and playing as well as he is, he is always a danger to any opponent.”
Mzwakali is relishing the turnaround in form, for both himself personally and the team as a whole.
“The team is on a high,” said Mzwakali. “The spirit is high in the camp because we are about to play Kaizer Chiefs. It’s one of those games where you don’t have to be scared. Everyone in the team wants to play this game, especially away in Durban. I think we’ll do well
“The focus is on playing Chiefs - the guys have been putting it in at training to impress the coach. Chiefs are a big team in the PSL, but we just want to go out, give our best and enjoy ourselves. It’s a big one and I want to stay focused. I’ve got one goal and two assists so far this season, but I’m going for more.”
As things stand, Chiefs are in third position on the PSL standings with 19 points, while Ajax are 13th with 13 points. The fact that the teams aren’t that far apart with regard to points, despite their respective log positions, is a measure of how tight and competitive the league has been this season.
But Ajax are determined to continue their recent improvement with a solid performance against Chiefs tonight - and sign off the year 2017 in good style.
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